Stronger than ever

The question has been posed dozens of times in the last week from media who descended on our neighborhood from all over the world: What is it about the Richard family —and their Ashmont-Adams community —that is so special?

The truth is that the vibrant, caring community that revolves around families like the Richards of Carruth Street can’t be bottled, capped, and shared with the world. Try though we will, that unique chemistry can’t be defined on a t-shirt or a Facebook page. It can’t even be claimed for all of our neighborhood, because— quite frankly, it doesn’t exist in all, or even in most, of Dorchester.

It doesn’t find its genesis in the sacristy of a church, or the gymnasium of a school, or the stacks at the Adams Street library. It doesn’t spring from seeds sprinkled amid the fields of Garvey Park or the marshy reeds that line Pope Park, where Martin and his siblings chased balls and birds and flag football belts.

In old Dorchester, life centered around these things: Park benches and pews and three-decker porches where children and their charges congregated and found common bond based on a shared faith, a shared struggle and, typically, a shared ancestry.

It was a strong and potent formula for survival, but it could also prove brittle. Many found cause to leave this place because — strong though it was— it wasn’t strong enough to withstand forces of change, upheaval, the gravitational pull of a different place, the promise— often empty—of something better beyond the old neighborhood.

The chemistry that bonds modern Dorchester residents together is stronger than the ones our parents and grandparents knew. It’s more lasting because it’s leavened with people like Bill and Denise Richard and scores of like-minded couples for whom community is not fixed to a single creed, schoolhouse, or country of origin. 

In Ashmont-Adams, the warren of side streets that cradles the Richard clan in its bosom in this time of their loss and grief, the collective identity and spirit of the place have been forged by the people themselves, by thousands of actions, large and small. All of them have been, at their roots, acts of affection: Bus trips to Pawtucket to watch minor league baseball, but mostly to belt out sudsy sing-alongs on the ride home; backyard turkey fry competitions and chili cook-offs; the early June scramble to build a Dot Day parade float, complete with a replica of their beloved Peabody Square clock.

Those who populate this place don’t gaze past each other into some suburban mirage in the distance. In one another, they recognize common cause and recall shared victories— signature buildings, thriving restaurants, T stations and convenience stores, bike racks and bike stores, and an old, rusting, four-faced sidewalk clock made new again. They’ve staggered and stumbled beneath their shared burdens— sudden deaths and stolen wallets, life-changing diagnoses and penny-ante annoyances of city life that screech into earshot like a Mattapan trolley car as the larger troubles fade off into the ether. They’ve buried neighbors and plotted memorials, but mostly they’ve celebrated life’s simpler pleasures: Little league championships, First Communions, Game 7s, and Super Bowl Sundays. 

That’s the big secret to their success: The people who live in Ashmont-Adams like each other. They want to live here. They enjoy their time together. They’ve built a world that is better than the one than they found at the start.

This week, the people came together around the clock in Peabody Square once more. It was telling that their mayor— the only one many of them have ever known — left the barricades of Boylston Street and joined them in his wheelchair for a nationally observed minute of silence. A grimace of genuine pain furrowed Tom Menino’s brow and he hid his eyes in his hands a few times. 

Then, as the bells peeled from the top of All Saints, Jeff Gonyeau, the man who stopped the Peabody Square clock last Tuesday, reached into its innards and gave the pendulum a gentle push. That’s all it took to set the hands and the gears moving again. The old clock was fixed years ago and — like the community that gave it life again— it’s in good working order. Better than ever, in fact.

– Bill Forry

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